Springboks' risk of first 'dry' year since 1991

Siya Kolisi and Cyril Ramaphosa (Getty Images)
Siya Kolisi and Cyril Ramaphosa (Getty Images)

It sounded pretty alarmist, but World Rugby chairperson Bill Beaumont was probably taking a worst-case scenario approach in warning last week of the possibility that there will no further Test activity globally for the rest of the year because of the coronavirus havoc.

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If so, however, it would mean the southern hemisphere superpowers, for example, unusually going the entire 2020 calendar year without taking to the field at national-team level ... including a Springbok team especially keen to strut their stuff as World Cup-holders.

That unpalatable event would also signal the first instance since 1991 - not long after the unbanning of the African National Congress - of the Boks being dormant for the entire year. (By way of comparison, fierce rivals New Zealand have not experienced a full calendar-year drought since as far back as 1948.)

South Africa returned to action, during the tangible phase of dismantling apartheid, on 15 August 1992, with that unforgettable Ellis Park drought-breaker against the All Blacks, when a late rally from 27-10 down helped give them a more respectable look on the scoreboard in a 27-24 reverse, but a week later they were on the receiving end more nastily again at a wet Newlands when the Wallabies thumped them 26-3.

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It was a bit of a bloody nose for the more parochial of SA pundits who had naively believed the perceived strength of the domestic Currie Cup during isolation would have kept the Boks right up at the pinnacle of the international game throughout.

The team led by Naas Botha in Johannesburg against Sean Fitzpatrick and company had featured as many as eight new caps among the starters: Robert du Preez, Adri Geldenhuys, Pieter Hendriks, Ian Macdonald, Lood Muller, Pieter Muller, James Small and Theo van Rensburg.

The Boks had been dormant up to that point since 1989, when Test caps were a little dubiously handed out for two matches that year against a cobbled-together "World XV" (though conspicuously lacking in New Zealanders) captained by veteran French scrumhalf Pierre Berbizier.

Led by Jannie Breedt from No 8 and with a line-up still featuring the Du Plessis brothers in the backline, Carel and Michael, the Boks made heavy weather of pipping the combo at Ellis Park (22-16) and Newlands (20-19).

Several years in the 1980s, only indicating the depth of South Africa's pariah status, had featured no Bok Test action: 1988, 1987, 1985 and 1983.

I'm still holding out optimistic hope that Siya Kolisi leads them from the tunnel in 2020. I'd be happy to have a little flutter on that ... you?

*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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